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Hernando teachers lacking key credentials

Published:   |   Updated: July 6, 2013 at 02:27 PM

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BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County School District has an average of about five percent less classes taught by "Highly Qualified Teachers" in core academic subjects than the state average, according to School Public Accountability Reports completed for the 2011-12 school year.

The reports show 89.3 percent of Hernando County School District's core high school classes were taught by teachers who had at least a bachelor's degree and Florida teaching certificate with appropriate certification for each core academic area of assignment, notably English, reading, language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics, government, economics, arts, history, and geography, according to Florida Department of Education.

By comparison, 91.2 percent of courses taught at Pasco County Schools were taught by teachers with the same qualifications, and the state average is 95.1 percent.

"The younger teachers are faced with getting a masters, and staying in the industry, and are asking themselves, 'Can I afford to get my masters?'" said Hernando Classroom Teachers Association President Jo Ann Hartge, adding that re-certification is a regular requirement for teachers. "Is it going to be worth it to them in the long turn? They're looking at it with the student loans they already have."

About 28 percent of Hernando high school staff members have master's degrees, or a ratio of one to every 56 Hernando students; however, a lack in staff qualified to teach college courses on district grounds will result in a projected 2,083 students to be dual-enrolled this year at Pasco-Hernando Community College.

A Senate bill that took effect Monday left Hernando County Schools - and districts statewide - on the hook for tuition costs for high school students dual-enrolled in college courses, which carries a total projected cost of $546,496. Previously, college tuition and fees were absorbed by colleges where school districts, for lack of qualified staff, outsourced their dual-enrollment programs. To teach dual-enrollment courses within the school district would cost little to nothing, according to Marcia Austin of the Division of Teaching and Learning.

"Why do we have to send so many students out for these classes, and not teach them in the high school? We don't have as many qualified teachers with masters degrees to teach those classes, so we need to acknowledge that," Hartge said. "We have to change that, and we can save quite a bit of money."

Administrators at PHCC met Monday to review and amend the annual articulation agreement it has with Pasco and Hernando county school districts, which they said might result in certain fees being waived to ease the sting the district is soon to feel.

"I have not seen a draft agreement yet from the college, but . I'm looking for a draft agreement sometime this week for review," said School Superintendent Lori Romano. "Other than that, I have not heard anything about what the agreement will include."

Former Superintendent Bryan Blavatt, as well as PHCC administrators, said the legislation caught many school boards by surprise, and that it was an annual, unfunded mandate districts did not budget for.

Despite Pasco County School District having a student population more than three times that of Hernando County's, both districts will end up paying about the same amount to PHCC for their dual-enrollment programs because Pasco has 234 more teachers with master's degrees than Hernando, and are qualified to teach college-level courses at their high schools at little or no cost, according to Austin.

Beginning teachers in Hernando County make $35,000, but with a master's degree a teacher can earn an additional $2,500, according to Hartge.

"You're talking $2,500 extra that could teach 20 students, or you could send them to PHCC and spend all that money; that doesn't make any sense to me," Hartge said. "(Students) don't have to pay (tuition) back if they drop out, and that money goes to PHCC anyway. Some of these classes are intense, and students may not be ready for them, and they drop out and we're out that money."

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